As many staff return to work this month, the rush to “get things done” and go “back to normal” can obscure the fact that automation and AI can help many businesses improve how that work is performed.
The typical office may be heaving with socially distanced activity as companies restart operations. Workers, managers and business leaders should take the restart as an opportunity to see how they can work smarter, particularly in light of the success of many automated technologies during the COVID crisis.
Most of these technologies have been in operation for years. But many businesses consider them too expensive (robots), too complex (AI chatbots) or for-enterprises-only (robotic process automation [RPA] and autonomous things).
The reality is that many have been commoditized or made as-a-service, allowing any size of business to adopt them. And that much of the back-end technology is simplified or invisible to business users, allowing almost anyone to build a chatbot or creating a set of automation instructions.
The question is, what should a business automate, and how to go about that process? The primary aim for managers and leaders is usually to focus on what generates the largest cost savings but in these strange times, ideas that can help workers focus more on key tasks should also be a consideration.
Take India-based customer-support chatbot Hitee, which bases its approach on “Considering the business reluctance on adopting technology due to high installation costs, Hitee is available on a subscription model at zero installation and training costs. Businesses can chat with customers, capture and nurture leads, start video sessions, converse in their native language, create workflows for automated response and FAQs — at plans starting Rs. 5000/month.”
Whatever your business need, there is likely to be a chatbot model that meets the task that is available for local, regional or global businesses. Or, for companies that have a specific need, they can easily create their own bots using services like SnatchBot to design bespoke conversations for customers, clients or internal use.
Bots can help provide key information, especially if it is changing regularly during these flexible times. Opening hours, booking times, delivery slots and progress check-ins, as well as sales and support advice are all ideal bot services. Using a bot can save someone being on the phone constantly, with any changes easily added to the script, for a small business or growing brand.
Beyond the chatbots into widestream automation
Chatbots provide the ideal way for a business to step onto the path to automation. They can fulfill a few simple roles or tasks, and prove the value of automated services to the business, while highlighting what the company needs to do for a successful launch and management of the project.
Some chatbots do fail because the business doesn’t put the required effort in, or understand the possibilities or limitations of the technology. But a little investigation into the successful use of bots during COVID by business, health agencies and governments will show how they can be used for schemes large and small.
Once bots are mastered, companies can start looking at process automation and other ways to improve their business. Finding laborious, repetitive or easily automated processes saves the business both time and money, and opens the door to better quality data that can help monitor company performance.
Business robotic process automation (RPA) is just one technology that started out as an enterprise-friendly and high-priced service, focusing on digitising millions of records or performing huge numbers of tasks. As smaller companies adopted technology, the cost has fallen and the flexibility improved so any company can adopt it to manage repeatable tasks.
And as AI gets involved in making chatbots and RPA tasks smarter, the opportunities for businesses of any size to take advantage grow, with further benefits. All this while actual robots continue to shrink and become more flexible, allowing them to take part in workshop and small production site activities to perform building, assembly or other additive tasks.
They can run 24/7, or as long as supplies last - and even then automated supply chains can see bots making orders to maintain supplies, just one example of the increasingly automated world that all businesses can expect to operate in the coming years.